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Physics doo-wop group's last stand

Les Horribles Cernettes performed their last show at CERN's Hadronic Music Festival. Photo by Signe Brewster

At their final performance on July 21, it was apparent that the members of Les Horribles Cernettes, a physics-themed doo-wop group, loved every proton of the more than 500 people that packed the annual Hadronic Music Festival at CERN.

“It’s been emotional, but it’s also been really great,” Cernette Anne MacNabb said. “It’s a fun spirit. It’s just like girlfriends getting together.”

The Cernettes reunited for the first time in five years at the festival with classics such as “Collider” and “Mr. Higgs.” To celebrate their final show, the group united past and present members on stage. MacNabb said combining members from different eras was easy because the spirit of the band has remained the same since its creation in 1990.

The Hadronic Music Festival is an annual event hosted by the CERN Music Club that features bands formed by CERN employees alongside groups with no affiliation. This year, the lineup included Power Age, NFB, the Cernettes, and Miss Proper and the Moving Targets. Genres ranged from classic rock to rap to pop and beyond.

Hardronic engineer Rusty Boyd said the festival is unique because it is truly a labor of love.

“Without the Music Club and other volunteers behind it, it would never work,” Boyd said.

This year’s festival was broadcast online, and 984 people in 42 countries logged on to watch. The number would have been in the thousands, but, according to Cernettes keyboardist Silvano de Gennaro, there was a bottleneck with the service provider and many people were turned away.

Prior to the festival, the Cernettes experienced a wave of attention from media around the world. They were interviewed by the BBC and parodied on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

“It’s amazing that there’s such an interest,” Cernettes founder Michele de Gennaro said. “It also goes to show that people really are interested in science.”

The Cernettes started in 1990 when de Gennaro asked her husband to write a song about the lonely nights of a physicist’s girlfriend. A few weeks later, the group performed “Collider” for the first time at the Hardronic Music Festival. The group quickly gained fame in the physics community with lyrics like “You never spend your nights with me/You don't go out with other girls either/You only love your collider.”

In 1992, the Cernettes performed at French physicist George Charpak’s Nobel Prize party and at the World Expo in Seville, Spain. Since then, they have performed at many other venues, including the inauguration of the Large Hadron Collider in 2008.

Their fans include Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web at CERN in 1990. While it is not true that an image of the Cernettes was the first picture on the Internet, Berners-Lee did create the first band website for them while testing his new invention in 1992. The website celebrated its 20th anniversary last week.

The Cernettes said they do not know what is ahead, but past member Angela Byrne said they will always stay involved with what they care about most - music.

“It’s like Pavlov’s dogs,” MacNabb said. “We listen to the music and we can’t help it; our bodies just start moving.”

Watch them perform their song "Big Bang" at their final performance [video by Signe Brewster]: